Welcome to Retro Television Reviews, a feature where we review some of our favorite and least favorite shows of the past! On Sundays, I will be reviewing the made-for-television movies that used to be a primetime mainstay. Today’s film is 1974’s Hitchhike! It can be viewed on YouTube!
Claire Stevens (Cloris Leachman) is an emotionally vulnerable woman who is dealing with her loneliness and depression by driving to San Francisco to visit her sister. As she’s driving, she spots a young man named Keith (Michael Brandon). Keith is standing on the side of the road and holding out his thumb. At first, Claire does the smart thing and she drives by him without stopping. However, Claire starts to feel guilty so she turns around and — NO, CLAIRE! WHAT ARE YOU THINKING!? — offers him a ride. It turns out that he’s going to San Francisco as well!
At first, the drive is awkward. Keith says that he doesn’t want to talk and he doesn’t appreciate it when Claire tries to make him listen to the classical music station. But, as they drive, Keith starts to let down his defenses. He says that he wishes that he could just sail away on the ocean. He encourages Claire to embrace life and to just go for it. They stop at a pier and have lunch. Claire buys Keith a silly white hat and she places it on his head because, as she puts it, “it’s cute.” Keith argues with her but he doesn’t take off the hat. However, when Keith spots some cops, he immediately leads Claire away from them.
The viewer watches all of this with a sense of dread because the viewer knows what Claire doesn’t. The viewer knows that Keith is the son of a wealthy man. The viewer knows that Keith had been having an affair with his stepmother, who was only a few years older than Keith. And the viewer knows that Keith murdered his stepmother with the same weapon that he’s currently carrying in his bag. The police are looking for Keith and Keith is willing to do just about anything to stay free.
I have to admit that I yelled a little when Claire offered Keith a ride because it was such an obviously stupid thing to do. Everyone knows that it’s never a good idea to pick up a hitchhiker. And, if you’re a woman who is driving down an isolated road by yourself, the last thing you should ever do is offer a ride to some strange man standing on the side of the road. Claire’s actions were foolish but, because she was played by Cloris Leachman, it was still hard not to sympathize with her. Claire is someone who feels as if she’s been abandoned by the world and, quite obviously, she sees Keith as a kindred spirit. Over the course of their journey, it becomes obvious that Claire is using Keith as a substitute for what she’s missing in her life. He becomes both a son and a companion to her. Unfortunately, Keith tends to go into a rage whenever he sense anyone getting too close to him.
Hitchhike! is a short movie and, for all the dramatic build-up, it ends on a rather anti-climatic note. Cameron Mitchell shows up as a detective who is looking for Claire and Keith and he gives a mannered performance that is oddly over-the-top by even his generous standards. That said, Michael Brandon has the blandly handsome look of a generic but charming serial killer while Cloris Leachman gives a credible and sympathetic performance as Claire. If nothing else, this film can be watched with The Hitcher as a double feature. Never stop your car for anyone!
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